Mayor Designates Vancouver a “Sanctuary City” for Undocumented Migrants

CIC News
Published: August 19, 2014

The “Sanctuary City” movement, which promotes the idea that all people living in a city should be able to avail of public services without fear of their participation leading to deportation, has been endorsed by the Mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson.

The concept of sanctuary cities has gained ground in the United States, which has seen a growing number of undocumented migrants arriving at its southern border in recent months. In Canada, the cities of Toronto and Hamilton have offered some limited services, including medical, to undocumented individuals who need them but are afraid to come forward for fear they may be deported. The idea is in a more embryonic stage in Vancouver, but Mayor Robertson has endorsed a recommendation to follow the moves taken by Toronto and Hamilton.

Vancouver’s rationale

In a statement posted to city councillor Geoff Meggs’ website supporting a recommendation of his Mayor’s Working Group on Immigration, Mayor Robertson stated that "Vancouver is committed to fostering an open, welcoming and safe environment for people of all backgrounds, and our diversity is fundamental to our city's success.

“The growing Sanctuary City movement in the U.S. provides lessons for ways Vancouver can support people who are living with pending or no immigration status. I'm pleased that the working group recommends we continue to explore the Sanctuary City concept, and how we can establish 'access without fear' policies in Vancouver, while recognizing our city's limited legal jurisdiction."

The latter point serves as a nod towards other political actors, including the federal government, who believe Mayor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver party are overstepping their jurisdiction by entering the realm of immigration policy. "Our government is proud of our record and we will not support efforts by any city council in Canada to offer sanctuary to individuals facing deportation," said Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander.

What this means for the undocumented in Vancouver

The endorsement of Vancouver becoming a Sanctuary City is in the policy formulation stage, and would only be fleshed out and implemented should Mayor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver party win a fresh mandate in the next municipal election, to be held on November 15, 2014.

For undocumented migrants currently, being the victim of domestic abuse, getting a transit ticket violation or other minor misdemeanour, or needing medical attention can lead to deportation by the Canada Border Services Agency. Any interaction with public officials comes with the threat of legal difficulties. As a result, many individuals and families live in a state of fear. The number of undocumented migrants in Vancouver is unknown, but is believed to be well into the thousands.

Potential difficulties, apart from resistance from the federal government, in getting Vancouver’s designation as a Sanctuary City off the drawing board and into operation include other jurisdictions such as transit police, school boards, health authorities, as well as the city itself. Any plan to recognise Vancouver as a Sanctuary City would need to involve such entities as willing partners.

Should Vancouver successfully become a Sanctuary City, access to services for migrants could be done without fear, regardless of their status in Canada. Health and police officials, among other public officials, would not share information on an individual’s status in Canada with federal immigration officials.

“Public officials across Canada generally do a wonderful job and work with integrity. Nurses and teachers should not have to perform the role of immigration enforcers,” said Attorney David Cohen. “Canada was always about giving people the benefit of the doubt, and Canadians aren’t the kind of people who let others live in fear. Quite often, individuals find themselves in Canada without status as a result of something out of their control, such as being tied to their spouse’s immigration status. Forcing people to live with anxiety and fear is not who we are. Canada is better than that.”

Undocumented migrants in Canada may still have other immigration options. Canada and its provinces offer a wide range of immigration programs. To find out if you are eligible for any of Canada's over 60 immigration programs, please fill out a free online assessment today.

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